Not with a Shabang but a Whimper: Ms. Marvel Annual #1

Ms. Marvel Annual #1

Joe Caramagna (lettering), Stefano Caselli and Andres Mossa (cover), Jon Lam (artist), Msassyk (colorist), Magdalene Visaggio (writer)
Marvel Comics
July 3, 2019

“We’re living like refugees on a planet we barely know!”

Super-Skrull shouts this at Ms. Marvel as she embiggens, meeting violence with violence despite just pages before asking for a “kinder, gentler Jersey City.” 

ms marvel

Ms. Marvel Annual #1 by writer Magdalene Visaggio and artist Jon Lam is a nearly thirty-page one-shot that is part of the Acts of Evil event and unconnected to the ongoing story in Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung’s The Magnificent Ms. Marvel. Visaggio’s dialogue critiques the physical violence typical of the genre while Lam’s artwork (with Msassyk’s colors) readily connects fists with faces.

In this issue, Kamala Khan… doesn’t look like Kamala Khan. When she first appears, four pages into the annual, her hair is cut above her shoulders (closer to concept art than any comic book appearance) and freckles are splashed across the bridge of her button nose. Her body is impossibly thin considering the fact that she does not shrink in this issue, and the colors, not done by series colorist Ian Herring, feel off. For the first half of the issue, Kamala only reads as a character of color when read against white characters like Bruno and Captain Hero (Super-Skrull’s shape-shifted superhero alter ego). In the latter half, especially at night, her complexion is inconsistent.

Also inconsistent? The issue’s politics. They’re liberal, but post-racial. Kamala Khan is a woman of color who has only on a handful of occasions been written by women of color (and never by a Muslim woman of color). There is a lack of reflexivity in her dialogue that suggests that race has nothing to do with her concept of justice. Responding to Super-Skrull/Captain Hero’s assertion that “justice shall prevail,” Kamala’s “I am very pro-justice” rings hollow. What does it even mean? What does it mean for a woman of color? For a daughter of immigrants? For a Muslim woman? For a superhero? For someone who exists at the intersections of these identities?

What does it mean for a refugee like (or, perhaps, refugee-like) Super-Skrull?

For Captain Hero, justice means beating up villains. The diegetic press likens him to a “new Punisher,” although there is no evidence that he has killed anyone, and the comparison feels out of place in an all-ages book like Ms. Marvel. And Kamala lets him get away with it. Halfway through the issue, she’s sitting at home, on the couch, following a two-page spread about Captain Hero hospitalizing “major villains” (most of whom I couldn’t name despite having read every single issue of Ms. Marvel). Another page flip, and Kamala is facing off against Shabang, who appears to be a Black woman with pink hair.

After embiggening her fist and punching Shabang into a wall, Kamala says, “Didn’t you ever learn it’s not polite to punch teenage girls?” Then, “Your mom did a real number on you, Shabang, didn’t she?” Shabang looks as much like a teenager as Kamala does. Kamala punches folks all the time. Two women of color duking it out is only progressive if your politics are post-race, when representation is the bottom line. The creative team segues quickly from this fight to one between Ms. Marvel and Super-Skrull, who has been trying to goad her into a fight by masquerading as a “good (white) guy” for most of the issue.

Kamala says to him, “Now, will you chill for a minute? I don’t even know why you’re here, and beating up strange aliens isn’t usually my jam.” To which Super-Skrull replies, “‘Jam’?! Is the destruction of my people’s ancestral home some sort of frolic to you? We’re living like refugees on a planet we barely know!” Then, he states his intention to destroy Earth at which point refugees in this narrative are cemented as violent, destructive (alien) beings intent not on justice (because, as Kamala says, “this isn’t how justice works”), not even on survival, but on revenge. This rhetoric has no place in the first comic book to feature a Muslim-American woman as its title character, especially not at a time when a significant number of refugees moving across our planet are from Muslim-majority countries.

Post-racial politics further appear when Kamala asks Super-Skrull to look to the future. She says, “…the past is the past. And the future… that’s something everyone has to make together,” as though injustice in the past has little to no bearing on the future. Telling a character likened to a refugee that their past, and by extension their home, isn’t coming back, is, at best, short-sighted, and, at worst, rhetoric used against marginalized groups whose very existence constitutes a “problem” for those in/with power.

On power, Visaggio and Lam take the superpowered violence endemic to the superhero genre literally. Violence, for this creative team, manifests as punches and kicks. It isn’t the violence of losing one’s home. Superhero comics can superficially be about punching, and sometimes they’re just wholly about punching, but they can also be about punching up. Ms. Marvel has, for the last five years, asked the question of what Jersey City, the United States, the world could look like if power was distributed more equitably and answered with a Kamala Khan unlike the one who appears in Ms. Marvel Annual #1.

2 thoughts on “Not with a Shabang but a Whimper: Ms. Marvel Annual #1

  1. Kamala’s characterization in this is even more jarring when you read it in juxtaposition to her taking out alien militia like it’s nothing in her most recent Magnificent Ms. Marvel storyline. I think you nailed it in your analysis – she didn’t like hurting people weaker than her in her earlier comics, but she’s never had a problem with punching up to protect the defenseless or her loved ones. Makes me really sad that this standalone is what people might pick up to see if they would like her new ongoing.

  2. When I first read this issue, I just thought it was so out-of-character for Kamala to be as anti-violence as she is, especially reading this concurrently with The Magnificent Ms. Marvel, where she’s totally fine with beating up the alien military that was oppressing the rebels on Saffa. And she was gonna beat the crap out of Josh had Bruno not stopped her in issue #2. I think you nailed it with your analysis; this comics’ critique of superhero violence was shallow because it failed to recognize the difference between punching down and punching up. Ms. Marvel doesn’t kill and didn’t like hurting animals or people weaker than her in her early comics, but she can be quite intimidating and aggressive when she has to protect the defenseless or people that she loves.

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